Published: June 21, 2022
Review by Z.G. Burnett, Photos Courtesy Pook & Pook
DOWNINGTOWN, PENN. – On June 9 and 10, Pook & Pook conducted the much anticipated auction of the Drs Donald and Patricia Herr Collection, carried out in two separate sessions. In addition to the nearly full in-house gallery, just over 8,200 bidders participated over Bidsquare, Invaluable and PookLive. The sale achieved more than $2,615,220, with 98 percent of the lots sold by the end of the second session.
“I could not be happier about the results of the Herr sale,” wrote Deidre Magarelli, president of Pook & Pook. “The entire team worked really hard, putting countless extra hours to make sure it was perfect.”
The auction followed the recent passing of Donald M. Herr (1938-2021), whose numerous accolades in the field of Pennsylvania German art and antiques were matched by his prominence in veterinary dentistry and his award-winning hybridizations of daylilies. Herr was also the ninth generation of his family to reside in Lancaster County, Penn., and a few signed heirlooms were among the lots. His wife of 59 years, Patricia Louise Thompson Herr, is a pioneer of veterinary medicine and distinguished decorative arts scholar in her own right. When asked why Herr was unloading so much of the collection amassed with her husband, the simple answer was “downsizing.”
The auction gallery was abuzz with bidders darting around during the preview, fueled by refreshments and the excitement of seeing the offered objects in person. Impressive though the beautifully bound Pook & Pook catalog was, there is nothing quite like being in the same space as such treasures, and so many! Many participants chatted amiably, discussing each piece with gravity. The Herrs’ children, Martha Brown, Roger Herr and Beth Collier also attended both sales, reuniting with their parents’ friends and colleagues of an extended network built throughout their lifetimes. At the upstairs display cases, Brown and Collier were heard remembering where the encased items used to be in their home. “We grew up with these things,” Brown said with a smile.
The first session started strong with a scarce fraktur birth certificate by Heinrich Lehn (1823-1862) from Cocalico Township, Lancaster County, which sold for more than double its high estimate at $24,800 ($8/12,000). Heinrich was the son of woodturner Joseph Lehn (1798-1892), whose works were popular during the sale. The same phone bidder secured a rare compass artist slide lid box a few lots later for $54,560 ($30/40,000). The anonymous compass artist is a Lancaster phenomenon, whose sought-after painted boxes have been the subject of much study and an exhibition at Winterthur in 2007.
The next painted box turned out to be the top lot of the day. Made by John Drissel of lower Milford Township, Bucks County, Penn., the important painted pine slide lid box was inscribed with “Johannes Stauffer/Anno 1797/John Drissel in his hand.” It was also decorated with his typical tulips and white wavy lines on a red brick ground. This box last sold at Pook & Pook in 2008, and a bidding volley took place until it finally went to a dealer on the phone for $93,000.
The third highest sale of the second day was a painted pine dresser box by Weber, signed on the underside by “F.R. Reist 1880,” which closed at $34,720. This and the other two boxes attracted many interested bidders, especially the smallest of the three. Painted with a red ground instead of the standard dark blue, it was only 2-1/8 by 3-5/8 inches and sold for $6,820 ($4/6,000).
The second highest lot of the first day was a vibrant surprise that generated much interest during the auction preview, a rare Pennsylvania book of watercolors. The folio included various colored illustrations and script, including Adam and Eve, marching soldiers, animals and birds, among other subjects. The leaf is inscribed “Abraham Kauffmans Book and Hand and Pen this 28th Day of March 1816, State of Pennsylvania, Warwick Township, Lancaster County,” a prize for collectors and researchers alike. The book sold on the phone to a dealer for $62,000 against a $5/10,000 estimate.
Tied for second place was a Johann Heinrich Otto (circa 1722-1800) fraktur of a parrot and crane-like bird, surrounded by stylized flowers. Otto possibly emigrated from what is now western Germany in 1753, was a veteran of the Revolutionary War and teacher as well as a fraktur artist. Only a handful of works known or attributed to Otto exist in top American museums. Bidding was intense for this lot, with a battle erupting between a phone bidder and another dealer on the floor. It ultimately sold to the phones for an exponential $62,000 against its $4/6,000 estimate. This was followed closely behind by an 1828 fraktur by David Herr of Lancaster, Penn., at just under $57,000. Also notable in the second sale was a fraktur birth certificate by Samuel Bentz (active in Mount Pleasant, Penn., 1792-1850) for Catharina Hacker (b 1827), dated 1828, which sold to the same dealer who won the watercolors book for $27,280.
Prominently displayed was an important seed chest by John Boyer (1833-1901), circa 1860, which retained its original faux grain decoration and was in a remarkable state of preservation. Boyer was a headliner in an exhibition of Nineteenth Century Pennsylvania craftsmen at the Heritage Center of Lancaster County in 2006, and several of his seed chests have survived. This example is one of the finest known among his work and sold for $52,000.
Wilhelm Schimmel (1817-1890) made an appearance as one of his signature polychrome carved eagles soared to the top lots. Retaining its original painted surface and an unusual gilt body, the spread-winged eagle was in overall very good condition despite a hole through its base and chest from previous mounting. Schimmel is a perennial favorite among collectors of Pennsylvania German art; a rooster of his sold last month at Garth’s for $42,500, and this eagle did not disappoint at $37,200, sold to the same dealer who bought the Drissel box.
Another object in high demand during the preview was a painted and decoupaged poplar seed chest by Joseph Lehn (1798-1892). A bit of a celebrity, this lot is featured on the cover of Donald Herr’s Joseph Lehn and Lehnware (2001), and is one of many lots by the artist to be featured in this sale. The seed chest sold for $34,720, more than double its estimate, while other Lehnware in the sale all sold either well within or far over their high estimates. The second highest Lehnware lot sold the next day; a turned and painted cup and saucer for $32,240.
Embroidery was a prominent category in the sale, being one of Patricia Herr’s main concentrations. The first to top the charts was a Pennsylvanian Moravian silk on silk embroidery, dated 1817, which sold for $29,670. It was featured in Herr’s The Ornamental Branches, Needlework and Arts from the Lititz Moravian Girls’ School Between 1800 and 1865 (1996) and commemorates Ellen B. Hawkins of Baltimore, Md., who entered the school in 1814. The next highest lot was an important silk on linen sampler from the Colerain Township school from 1838, which secured $27,280. An unexpected third place in its category on the first day was a pair of Chester County, Penn., needleworks depicting peacock-like birds standing on a grassy mound, dated 1792 and signed by Sarah Pusey (1759-1793). A bidding war over the phones resulted in a sold price of $24,800.
The gold medal for the category, however, went to the next day’s Philadelphia silk on silk pictorial embroidery. Selling at $161,200 to another dealer on the phone, this was the second highest lot in the two-day sale overall and the result of a 37-bid phone spat. The embroidery was rendered by Ann Marsh circa 1730, depicting a vibrant urn of flowers with an insect and bird, all resting on a rolling lawn with sheep and a running dog. The bottom half of an anthropomorphized sun also peeks out from the clouds, framed with a custom reproduction by Alan Andersen of Lancaster, Penn.
The same phone bidding dealer purchased a few other samplers during the sale, including an unusual and rare Philadelphia silk on gauze example depicting a map. Embroidered by Helena West and dated 1791, the sampler shows a map of North and South America, including latitude and longitude lines as well as oceans, continents, states, regions and major cities. Just in case this was too academic for a young lady, the map is framed by delicately worked floral swags. It sold for $22,320.
The only bottle offered during this auction was a fine representation of its category, a daisy and diamond glass flask by Stiegel Glassworks of Manheim, Penn. Blown circa 1770, amethyst Stiegel is highly sought-after and only a few examples have come to auction in the past few years. With no apparent breaks or repairs, a well-defined pontil and suitable wear on the base, the flask was a prize at $12,400.
Another categorical outlier in the top lots was an exceedingly rare York, Penn., copper sauce pan and lid, marked by John Lay (1791-1844) that hit boiling point at $13,640. Bought by Lisa Minardi for a collector, it was included in the 1983 “Arts of the Pennsylvania Germans” exhibition at the Winterthur Museum & Gardens, then the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum.
Minardi generously shared her purchases and plans for them with us. Bidding in her capacity as president of Philip Bradley Antiques of Sumneytown, Penn., Minardi bought several lots for collectors, including the two fraktur lots by Christian Beschler, also known as the “Sussel Unicorn Artist” after the landmark Arthur Sussel Sale at the Parke-Bernet Galleries in 1958, according to the auction catalog. Beschler remained thus named until his identity was uncovered in 2009 by Don Herr and Dr Don Yoder, who were able to identify only ten of his works. Made for Magdalena Fuchs (b 1801), the fraktur sold for $32,240.
Minardi also purchased the auction’s other Beschler, a 1796 birth and baptismal certificate for Jacob Jaekle of Northumberland, Penn., at $7,440 ($3/5,000). “My late husband, Philip Bradley, and I had previously gone head to head with Don Herr on [this lot] when it turned up in the estate sale of Tom Umholtz, a Mahantongo Valley collector,” she recalled. “I am thrilled to have been able to buy it this time around and look forward to having it conserved. Despite the condition issues, it is an extraordinarily bold and colorful fraktur by a very rare artist.” Another fraktur Minardi won was a birth certificate for Barbara Herr (b 1774), “the largest and most detailed of the five Manor Township Artist [of Lancaster County] fraktur in the sale” for $8,680 ($3/4,000). She noted, “The delicacy of the artwork and penmanship on this piece is just incredible.”
With her hat on as a museum director and scholar of Pennsylvania German art, Minardi bought a number of additional lots. Many of these pieces will be going on display at Historic Trappe’s Center for Pennsylvania German Studies, which is reopening this fall with a new exhibition on recent acquisitions. This includes a fraktur from Ephrata, Lancaster County, which sold for $4,960 ($2/3,000) and a birth certificate by Heinrich Dulheuer (circa 1777-), the fraktur commemorates Christian Herr (b 1782) in Mount Joy Township. Minardi noted that it is the only known example with the printed mermaid motif visible not covered up by other artwork. “I have traced that mermaid to its London print source and consider this fraktur a Rosetta stone for helping understand the trans-Atlantic nature of Pennsylvania German art.”
Minardi also purchased several textiles, including two group lots that were both decorated with pigment stamped designs; an unusual pair of American stenciled pillowcases for $2,360 ($300/400), circa 1820, and two Pennsylvania hand towels stenciled with geometric designs, flowers and birds, one stamped “F.P. White” at the top, for $930 ($200/300). Another lot of hand towels, one by Mary Bomberger, worked in 1837 and another by Rebecca J. Minnich in 1850, made it to Minardi’s list for $3,470 ($400/800). These were “covered in needlework from top to bottom and in mint condition.”
Other textiles in Minardi’s basket, of which she also won many in the sale, were a group lot of four very rare Pennsylvania German linen and cotton tablecloths for $200 ($350/450), and a pieced cotton quilt by Barbara Schenken. Worked in the Irish chain pattern and signed 1914 with the artist’s name, it is one of the earliest dated Pennsylvania quilts. “These pieces represent Trish [Herr’s] extraordinary eye and scholarship,” Minardi commented, “and I am so excited to be able to exhibit and share them with other collectors and scholars.”
Despite the many carefully considered acquisitions for her museum and her business, Minardi was not the most prolific buyer at the sale. That distinction belongs to an unnamed dealer in the room who won nearly a hundred lots, if not more, in all categories. They and Minardi even crossed paddles a few times. The dealer purchased for quality and quantity, mostly focusing on smaller items like tin cookie cutters and Lehnware, with a few larger pieces that were some of the auction’s rare deals. These purchases included a carved group by George G. Wolfskill (1872-1940) of Fivepointville, Lancaster County, whose work was strong in this sale with each of the lots selling over their estimate.
The master carver, according to price, was John Reber (1857-1938) of Lehigh County, Penn., whose carved and painted figure of Dan Patch (1896-1916) sold over its high estimate at $23,560 ($12/18,000). Patch was a celebrity thoroughbred racing horse, who was undefeated in open competition and set multiple speed records in his career. A few other barnyard friends by Reber, including another anonymous horse, a cow and two chickens also went home to new farms during the sale.
A surprisingly active category was wallpaper boxes, of which there were quite a few offered in group and individual lots. All were sold and most went for more than – sometimes multiples of – their estimates. The top of this collection wasn’t a box, but a rare pair of Nineteenth Century wallpaper-covered pockets that were mounted at $14,880. There was little information given about these despite a brief provenance, but they were vibrantly colored and in excellent condition. The buyer also purchased one of the more expensive wallpaper boxes for $2,360 ($800-$1,200), and won the Weber dresser box earlier that day. Another wallpaper box worth noting was the most diminutive example of the craft we have seen; a 1¼-by-1½-inch Nineteenth Century box containing an even smaller blue rattle, which sold for more than five times its high estimate at $6,820.
And yet after all this, the show was still not over. The second sale included a large amount of pewter which was the first of three installments of the Herrs’ collection. Prominent collectors bidding in the room shared, “The Herr Pewter Collection was one of the three greatest in the United States. The other two collections were Mel Wolf’s…and Bud Swain’s collection [that sold at Northeast Auction in 2007]. When these three were actively buying, we couldn’t compete when it came to the good stuff.”
Within this category was the highest selling lot of both sales, a highly important Lancaster pewter flagon bearing the touch of Johann Christoph Heyne, circa 1770, which sold for $198,400. The flagon was acquired by the Bayou Bend Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Herr examined the flagon in his Pewter in Pennsylvania German Churches (1995), “[Heyne’s] splendid flagons, with their strongly Germanic elements of cherub’s heat feet and body, combined with a cast hollow English handle, are remarkable examples of colonial assimilation of styles.” A tough act to follow, the second highest pewter lot was a circa 1780 Philadelphia coffee pot attributed to William Will. Few examples of this form survive and it is one of the most iconic pieces of pewter, but its $27,280 selling price seems like almost a bargain in comparison to the flagon’s.
Two collectors in the room purchased 19 of the 90 pewter lots, and later commented, “[The Herrs were] one of the great pewter-collecting couples. Anything [Don] did was scholarly, in-depth, nationally the best – [it was] just his personality.”
Speaking with the Herrs towards the end of the second day, they were excited about how the sales had progressed. Being able to see old friends they knew from their parents’ collecting days was a treat, and the pricing was right in line for them. “We were educated [about the collection],” Collier said, “no real surprises.” If the Herrs are happy, so are we.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house. Parts two and three of the Herr’s collectoin will be sold in January and October 2023. For more information, 610-269-4040 or www.pookandpook.com.
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